Thursday, August 09, 2018

On the "Popular Film" Oscar

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced this week that they would be making a few changes to the awards, some of which start with the 91st Academy Awards in February. The least contentious of the three was that they will be moving the Oscars to an earlier time in February, thereby shortening the interminable awards season.

The other mostly-not-controversial announcement was that the Academy would be shortening the length of the ceremony to three hours, in part by giving some awards (read: short films) during the commercial breaks and then running some clips of those awards later in the show. It seems like it's not a terrible decision to make, although there has been some chatter online about how the whole "The Oscars are too long" narrative is overwrought and likely not as responsible for the decline in ratings as some pundits have proposed.

But it was the final announcement of the three that has already been regarded with a mix of derision, skepticism, and puzzlement: the Academy, at some point in the future - perhaps as soon as the next Oscars - will be introducing a heretofore unheralded category for "Best Achievement in Popular Film". They released very few details about the criteria for the award or the timeline in which it will be introduced, but that has not stopped critics from reacting.

There have already been a few takes published: Vanity Fair said it is likely only to make things worse for these kinds of movies; Rolling Stone's Tim Grierson framed his criticism of the decision by examining how the move seems ill-fated and reactionary; and, perhaps most directly, Vulture's Kyle Buchanan's opinion is expressed in his headline: "The Oscars Made Some Dumb Decisions Today".

I have a number of thoughts of my own that I wanted to share as a result of this decision, so I thought it would be useful to present my ideas in a series of posts. This post, the first of the three, will go through some of the questions that arise as a result of this new category, along with my initial thoughts on its inception. The next post will serve as an extended thought experiment of what might have been, and the final post will consist of some of the other ways that the Oscars might make some changes. But for now, here are the questions that are raised as well as some of my initial thoughts.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Leafs' Levels of Losing

Today marked the 51st edition of the celebration from much of the hockey world the day after the end of the Toronto Maple Leafs' season. This year's seven game series loss to the Bruins was creative in its execution, if nothing else. After being blown away in the first two games and then being down 3-1 in the series, the Leafs won two games in a row to force a deciding game without really playing a great game in the series.

In Game 7, they took advantage of early sloppy play by the Bruins and once-future-Leaf-goalie Tuukka Rask. The Leafs led 4-3 going into the third period, but they quickly gave up the lead and ended up losing 7-4. It was a disappointing loss, to be sure, but it did not seem as devastating as it could have been. I and other Leaf fans would far rather have seen them win, but it did not seem like the worst thing for them to lose.

But then my ruminations on this series loss made me start to wonder I would rank it in comparison to all of the other season-ending losses I have experienced over the past quarter-century as a Leafs fan. In that time, they have made the playoffs as many times as they missed out: twelve each, with the lockout marking the remaining entry.

So I decided, arguably somewhat masochistically, to rank each playoff loss (and one notable end to a regular season) to see where this series would rank in my personal tortured history as a Leafs fan. (This is the point at which I should probably give a not entirely facetious trigger warning to any Leafs fan. It's not as bad as it could be, but I'm still dredging up some ugly losses here.)

Special Mention: Los Angeles Kings / NHL conspiracy to make hockey succeed in the southern US, Western Conference Finals, 7 games, 1993. Although I still harbor residual bitterness toward Kerry Fraser, Gary Bettman, and the NHL for the fiasco of the Doug Gilmour high sticking non-call on Wayne Gretzky in the 1993 Conference Finals, I did not rank this series because I was not a Leafs fan at the time. That said, I could easily make an argument that I should have ranked it because I was cheering for the Leafs at the time anyway as a Canadian team, and that the fact that this was easily the Leafs' best chance for a Cup since 1967 would put it in my top three on merit alone, even if I do not have a lot of personal baggage tied up in this loss.

Tier V: No residual pain

13. Chicago Blackhawks, Western Conference Quarterfinals, 7 games, 1995. I'm not sure why this one doesn't stick out more to me now, since this was a particularly nasty series with a divisional rival with some bad blood between the two teams. Perhaps I just was not as aware of that history, but I have no feelings about this series at all. Two players from that Hawks team will come up later in this history, though - one in a positive light (goaltender Ed Belfour), and one far less favourable (Jeremy Roenick).

12. St. Louis Blues, Western Conference Quarterfinals, 6 games, 1996. This should probably be lower than the loss to the Hawks in the previous year, but my Leafs fandom was more well-established by this point and there was more of a sense of urgency to this loss, as the core of the team that had almost made it in 1993 was quickly fading. They ran into Curtis Joseph, which marked the second year in a row they would lose to a goalie who would later become a playoff hero for the team.

11. New Jersey Devils/New York Islanders, Last Day of the Regular Season, 2007. This is the only non-playoff loss on my list, but it deserves its spot. After the Leafs barely missed the playoffs the previous year, which was the year after the lockout, they entered the final day of the season with a chance to return to the post-season if the Devils beat the Islanders that day.

I still think there was some kind of collusion between the latter two teams, because the playoff-bound Devils rested several starters and lost in a shootout, which meant the Islanders made the playoffs. Of course, the Leafs had themselves lost in Long Island in the previous game when a win would have guaranteed them a playoff berth, but that last game still stung, especially because it would be another six years before Leaf fans would get to watch playoff hockey again.

Tier IV: It stings a little

10. Washington Capitals, Atlantic Division Semifinals, 6 games, 2017. Although the Leafs ultimately pushed the best regular season team as far as they could, they lost in six games, including three losses in overtime. What makes this loss easier is that the team had been the worst in the league one year previous; what makes it harder in retrospect is that they were so so very close to one of the greatest upsets of recent memory and maybe of all time.

9. Vancouver Canucks, Western Conference Finals, 5 games, 1994. This loss should probably be ranked a lot higher, but it's not for a few reasons: I was still a really new Leafs fan; the team was obviously gassed after two brutal rounds; and they lost to another Canadian team. What can I say? I was only eleven, and my senses of loyalty and long-suffering were still not very well developed at the time. It should probably sting more than it does, but then we wouldn't have had that classic Rangers-Canucks final.

8. Boston Bruins, Atlantic Division Semifinals, 7 games, 2018. This feels about right, all things considered. Sure, the team had the most wins and points in its history, but those numbers were artificially inflated from the loser point, so this was not the best Leafs team ever. It still stings to lose the series when they had the lead going into the third period of Game 7, but it still feels like this team is young enough that this was not their last chance. (More on that later.)

7. Buffalo Sabres, Eastern Conference Finals, 5 games, 1999. The Leafs had had a surprisingly solid first season in the Eastern Conference and their new building in front of new goalie Curtis Joseph. They had defeated Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in somewhat close series in the first two rounds, but they ran into the best goalie in the game in Dominik Hasek and this series was not even close. It was great to have the Leafs good again, and there was hope for the future that was (somewhat) justified by their performances over the next few years, so that's why this loss ranks somewhat lower than might otherwise be expected.

Tier III: That really smarts!

6. Philadelphia Flyers, Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, 7 games, 2003. This series was an all-out war that the Leafs had no business winning apart from the heroics of goalie Ed Belfour. They won two games in double-overtime and barely missed out on taking a 3-1 lead in Game 4 after a triple-overtime loss, all of which was mostly thanks to Belfour's incredible goaltending. I just really hated those Flyers teams, so this might be ranked so highly largely because of personal distaste.

5. New Jersey Devils, Eastern Conference Semifinals, 6 games, 2000. The Leafs had made it to the Conference Finals the year before, but the Devils were at the peak of their powers on their way to their second Cup. The Leafs had managed to split the first two games of the series before losing Game 5 at home and then managing to gift Martin Brodeur with the record for the fewest saves required for a shutout in a playoff game in the Game 6 series clincher. 

4. Philadelphia Flyers, Eastern Conference Semifinals, 6 games, 2004. This series is ranked this highly for three reasons. First, I had (and probably still have) a lot of residual bitterness against the Flyers for winning the previous year. Second, Jeremy Roenick scored the winner in OT. And finally, we knew that this was the true end of this era of Leafs success thanks to the impending lockout. I don't think any of us would have guessed that it would be so long until a return to anything resembling success, but the fact that this was the last Leafs playoff series for almost a decade makes it sting even more now than it did then.

Tier II: In serious pain

3. New Jersey Devils, Eastern Conference Semifinals, 7 games, 2001. This might be the one that really got away. After dispatching the Ottawa Senators in the first round, the Leafs led this series 3-2 with Game 6 at home, which they lost 4-2; they then went on to lose Game 7 by a 5-1 score to the eventual Finalists, which was even more embarrassing than the Game 6 drubbing the year before. They never had another chance at the Devils, although the Devils did win the Cup again in 2003, because nothing makes a loss worse than seeing the other team have even more success.

2. Carolina Hurricanes, Eastern Conference Finals, 6 games, 2002. After the Leafs lost star Mats Sundin in a brutal first round battle with the New York Islanders, the team gutted out series wins against the Islanders and the Senators in seven games each behind the heroics of Gary Roberts and Alyn McCauley. But they lost three games in overtime to the Hurricanes and just could not beat Arturs Irbe. This is the one that can only be rationalized through injury, and even then it just does not make sense, other than being the year that could have been.

Tier I: That Game

1.  Boston Bruins, Conference Quarter-Finals, 7 games, 2013. A loss that deserves its own level of pain. Sure, they were a young team that was performing way above expectations, but they had a 4-1 lead with under ten minutes to go and provided a perennial punchline for Leaf-haters everywhere. I don't know if it made it better or worse that the Bruins went on to the Final to lose to Chicago, but I will never forget the emotional roller coaster of this loss.

The windows of winning

To be honest, I was expecting that this exercise would be a lot more painful than it ended up being. Perhaps that is because I am far more personally removed from hockey and sports fandom in general over the past few years, but it is also likely somewhat due to the increased distance from some of those losses. Most of them seem "reasonable" in retrospect considering the teams to whom the Leafs lost, and although they all still sting, they make sense in the greater view of the narrative of hockey history - except for that loss to the Hurricanes in 2002.

But I also realized through looking through this quarter-century of playoff woe (as well as the success of other teams) that the window for possible success is a decade at most and probably closer to five or six years for most teams. The Devils had a window from 1994-2004, but they had an all-time goalie and two Hall of Fame defencemen. The Red Wings' window lasted from 1995-2004, but they had an unreal core of future Hall of Famers. The Dallas Stars, Buffalo Sabres, and Ottawa Senators also had success in that time period, and two of those three teams did not win a Cup.

In the decade and a bit since the lockout in 2005, there are many other examples of teams that could not win the Cup despite sustained success, even if they made it through to the Finals: the New York Rangers, or the San Jose Sharks, or the Vancouver Canucks. Or consider the Anaheim Ducks, who have not made it back to the Finals since winning in 2007, managing to lose in a seventh game on home ice after leading a series 3-2 for four consecutive years (now that's some pain right there). And then, of course, the playoff pain poster boy Washington Capitals have never managed to make it past the second round, despite having Alexander Ovechkin.

The point here is that although I do believe that the Leafs do have a few years left in their window for success that things can easily and quickly change for the worse. It is increasingly difficult to keep good teams together under a salary cap, and the Leafs are poised to have some troubles in a few years when Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, and Frederik Andersen are poised for significant raises from their currently relatively cheap contracts.

The Leafs have a bright future, especially now that their core players have experienced the anguish of a Game 7 loss, and there is every possibility that they will be contending for the Cup for the next five to eight years; then again, there is a possibility that they will lose early again in the next two years and that the 2020 lockout will effectively mark the end of this edition of the Leafs. I do not think that will be the case, but there's always the possibility that the window could be a lot smaller than you might otherwise think.


I think that this particular series loss to the Bruins did not affect me as much because I never really bought into this team as a contender. I know a lot of people who did, but I was not one of them. There were still too many better teams that the Leafs would have to leapfrog - all of whom are still playing in the second round - including two in their own division. It felt like this team was a couple of years of experience and a solid defenseman away from contending, and Game 7 confirmed that fact for me.

But I am in on this team for next year, which might be a recipe for more pain. I really like this group of players, and I am looking forward to watching them grow next year. But I also know that I am not looking forward to some of the future playoff losses that seem somewhat inevitable as they keep growing and learning how to win, even if they do it the hard way.

That said, I don't know what I would do if Vegas manages to make the Finals in their first year as a franchise, much less if they won the Cup. Then again, the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Cubs, and Houston Astros can overcome their baggage to win titles, so anything really is possible, and it is just as conceivable that these young Leafs use their pain to propel them to heights that no one under the age of fifty has ever seen; only time will tell, and I can only hope that I don't have to write another column like this in the future.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Turner Games Q4 2017 Update

This is a long overdue update on my board gaming for the last three months of 2017 that I inexplicably skipped over posting for the past two-and-a-half months. It's a little shorter than most of my updates, since I'm going to leave a number of items (ie. updating my goals for 2017) for my year-in-review post, as well as omitting the usual "what I'm looking forward to in the next quarter" conclusion.

Games Played

Games played this quarter from my Top 25 to play: Jump Drive (1)

Games played this quarter from previous "Top to Play" lists: Space Alert (1)

Other games played this quarter from my "Want to Play" list: Azul; Barenpark; Caverna: Cave vs. Cave; First Class; FlowerFall; Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle; Herbaceous; Hero Realms; Infinite City; Ladder 29; Magic Maze; Mega Man: The Board Game; Monad; Okey Dokey; Roll Through The Ages: The Iron Age; Tiny Epic Quest; Valletta; Word on the Street; Yamatai (19)

Other new games played this quarter: Codenames: Marvel; Doctor Who Fluxx; EXIT: The Game - The Abandoned Cabin; Go Nuts for Donuts; Quelf; Stock Ticker; Tokyo Highway; Unlock! The Tonipal's Treasure (8)

New expansions played this quarter from my "Want to Play" list: Between Two Cities: Capitals; Galaxy Trucker: Another Big Expansion; Oh My Goods! Longsdale in Revolt; Pandemic: The Cure - Experimental Meds (4)

Other new expansions played this quarter: N/A

New party/social games played this quarter: Codenames: Marvel; Quelf; Word on the Street (3)

New filler games played this quarter: Doctor Who Fluxx; FlowerFall; Go Nuts for Donuts; Herbaceous; Magic Maze; Okey Dokey; Stock Ticker; Tokyo Highway (8)

New light strategy games played this quarter: Azul; Caverna: Cave vs. Cave; Hero Realms; Jump Drive; Ladder 29; Monad (6)

New family games played this quarter: Barenpark; EXIT: The Game - The Abandoned Cabin; Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle; Infinite City; Unlock! The Tonipal's Treasure (5)

New family strategy games played this quarter: Mega Man: The Board Game; Roll Through The Ages: The Iron Age; Tiny Epic Quest; Yamatai (4)

New complex games played this quarter: First Class; Space Alert; Valletta (3)

Favourite new light/medium games played this quarter: Azul; Caverna: Cave vs. Cave; Jump Drive; Magic Maze; Okey Dokey

Favourite new strategy/complex games played this quarter: First Class; Tiny Epic Quest; Valletta

Games played most this quarter:
1. Codenames Duet (18)
2. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle (6)
3. Anomia; Azul; Magic Maze (5)
6. NMBR 9; Okey Dokey; OctoDice (4)

Other games played repeatedly this quarter: 7 Wonders; Cacao; Can't Stop; Century: Spice Road; Codenames: Pictures; Galaxy Trucker; The Game; Get Bit!; The Great Heartland Hauling Co.; Istanbul; Monkey; Oh My Goods!; Orleans; Pot O' Gold; Roll for the Galaxy; San Juan; Splendor; Tides of Time; Tiny Epic Galaxies; Villages of Valeria; The Voyages of Marco Polo (21)

New games played repeatedly this quarter: Azul; Caverna: Cave vs. Cave; Codenames: Marvel; Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle; Magic Maze; Okey Dokey; Space Alert; Tiny Epic Quest (8)

Games replayed from my Top 25 to Replay List this quarter: Quadropolis (1)

Other games replayed (for a second time) this quarter: 6 Nimmt!; Acquire; Broom Service; Camel Up Cards; For Sale; Gold West; The Great Heartland Hauling Co.; Great Western Trail; The Oracle of Delphi; Sagrada; Tides of Time (11)

Expansions replayed (for a second time) this quarter: Cacao: Chocolatl; Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black (2)

New nickels (five total plays) this quarter: Azul; Cacao; Can't Stop; Century: Spice Road; Codenames Duet; Harry Potter: Hogwarts' Battle; Magic Maze; Medieval Academy; Roll for the Galaxy; Samurai; The Voyages of Marco Polo (11)

New dimes (ten total plays) this quarter: Codenames Duet (1)

New quarters (25 total plays) this quarter: N/A

Want to play

Games added to my "Want to Play" list this quarter: Hardback; Istanbul: The Dice Game; Ladder 29; Majesty: For the Realm; Mint Delivery; Mint Works; Pulsar 2849; Rajas of the Ganges; That's A Question! (9)

Party/social games added this quarter: That's A Question! (1)

Filler/light games added this quarter: Mint Delivery; Mint Works (2)

Light strategy games added this quarter: Hardback; Istanbul: The Dice Game; Ladder 29 (3)

Family games added this quarter: Majesty: For the Realm (1)

Family strategy games added this quarter: N/A

Complex games added this quarter: Pulsar 2849; Rajas of the Ganges (2)

Expansions added this quarter: Innovation: Artifacts of History; Innovation: Cities of Destiny; The Networks: Executives; Paperback: Unabridged; Terraforming Mars: Hellas and Elysium; Terraforming Mars: Venus Next; Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 - United Kingdom and Pennsylvania; Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 6 - France and Old West (8)

Games and expansions removed from my "Want to Play" list this quarter: Brewin' USA; Colony; First Martians; Leaders of Euphoria (4)

Changes to my collection

Games acquired this quarter: Boss Monster; Cacao; Caverna: Cave vs. Cave; Century: Spice Road; Codenames Duet; Compounded; Glen More; Go Nuts for Donuts; The Grizzled; Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle; Jump Drive; Ladder 29; Louis XIV; NMBR 9; Okey Dokey; Pandemic Legacy: Season 2; Roll for the Galaxy; Terraforming Mars; Tichu (19)

Party/social games added this quarter: Codenames Duet (1)

Filler/light games added this quarter: Go Nuts for Donuts; NMBR 9; Okey Dokey (3)

Light strategy games added this quarter: Boss Monster; Century: Spice Road; The Grizzled; Jump Drive; Ladder 29; Tichu (6)

Family games added this quarter: Cacao; Caverna: Cave Vs. Cave; Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle (3)

Family strategy games added this quarter: Compounded; Glen More; Roll For the Galaxy (3)

Complex games added this quarter: Louis XIV; Pandemic Legacy: Season 2; Terraforming Mars (3)

Large expansions acquired this quarter: Between Two Cities: Capitals; Cacao: Chocolatl; Compounded: Geiger; Dixit: Odyssey; Flash Point: Fire Rescue - Tragic Events; Oh My Goods!: Longsdale in Revolt; Pandemic: The Cure - Experimental Meds; Cities of Splendor; Terraforming Mars: Hellas and Elysium (9)

Promo (mini/small) expansions acquired this quarter: 7 Wonders Duel: Stonehenge; 7 Wonders: Cities - Anniversary Pack; 7 Wonders: Leaders - Anniversary Pack; Century: Spice Road - Promos; Codenames: Authors and Board Games; Codenames: Pictures: 5x5 Promo Tiles; Compounded: Chemical Chaos; Compounded: Methamphetamine; Go Nuts for Donuts: Apple Fritter; Go Nuts for Donuts: Bacon; Go Nuts for Donuts: Zombie; Imperial Settlers: Dice Tower Inn; Louis XIV: The Favorite; Mega Man Pixel Tactics: Frost Man; NMBR 9: Starting Tiles; Orleans: Drawbridge; Orleans: Neue Ostkarten No. 5; Orleans: Promo No. 1; Splendor: Dice Tower Noble; Terraforming Mars: Self-Replicating Robots; Terraforming Mars: Snow Algae; Thief's Market: Narrow Alleyway (22)

Games and expansions liquidated from my collection this quarter: Hive  + 2 expansions; Keyflower; Morels; Orleans; Prairie; Space Alert (4+3)

Kickstarters that arrived this quarter: Flash Point: Fire Rescue - Tragic Events; Ladder 29 (2)

Kickstarters ordered this quarter (with target arrival date): The Networks and Executives (May)

Kickstarters still on order from previous quarters (with expected arrival date): Hardback and Paperback Expansion (Jan); Mint Delivery and Mint Works (May); Star Realms: Frontiers (Feb)

Games added to my wish list this quarter: Azul; Istanbul: The Dice Game (2)

Expansions added to my wish list this quarter: Agricola: Farmers of the Moor; Cacao: Diamante; Concordia: Aegyptus / Creta; Dixit: Harmonies; Imperial Settlers: We Didn't Start the Fire; Voyages of Marco Polo: Agents of Venice (6)

Small (mini/promo) expansions added to my "Want in Trade" list this quarter: Cacao: Diamante - The New Huts; The Castles of Burgundy: Team Game; Mega Man Pixel Tactics: NMBR 9 - Extra Tiles; Stardroids; Roll for the Galaxy: World of Ambition; Terraforming Mars: Penguins (6)

Here's the updated shelfie for posterity:

In the Queue

I found that having a queue last quarter was really valuable for guiding my playing priorities, so I decided to expand it a little bit for this quarter.

New games to play from my collection: Back to the Future: An Adventure Through Time; Boss Monster*; Compounded*; Incan Gold; Louis XIV*; Mega Man Pixel Tactics; Pandemic Legacy: Season 2*; Tichu* (8)

New expansions to play from my collection: Compounded: Geiger*; Core Worlds: Revolution; Galaxy Trucker: Latest Models*; Galaxy Trucker: Missions*; Fresco: 8, 9, and 10;  Innovation: Artifacts of History; Innovation: Cities of Destiny; Innovation: Figures in the Sand; The Resistance: Hostile Agenda and Hidden Intent*; Roll Through The Ages: The Iron Age - The Mediterranean*; Terraforming Mars: Hellas and Elysium* (10)

Top games to pull off the shelf and replay: Core Worlds*; Cosmic Encounter; Glass Road*; Le Havre; Le Havre: The Inland Port; In The Year of the Dragon*; La Isla*; Ora et Labora; The Princes of Florence; Tikal; Uchronia* (11)

Games with 5+ plays that will join my Shelf of Shame if unplayed this quarter: Agricola; Burgoo; Caverna: The Cave Farmers; Coin Age; Dixit; El Grande; Hey, That's My Fish!; King of New York; Knit Wit; Lost Cities; Saint Petersburg; Spyrium; Sushi Go! (13)

Top new games to play: The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game; Ex Libris; Food Truck Champion; Gaia Project; Majesty: For the Realm (5)

Top (non-owned) complex games to replay for a second time: Concordia; The Gallerist; La Granja; Grand Austria Hotel; Lorenzo il Magnifico* (5)

Top Deep Dives: Galaxy Trucker; Innovation; Terraforming Mars (3)

Top small/medium games to buy: Azul; The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game; Gravwell; Lanterns: The Harvest Festival; Queendomino (5)

Top large games to buy: The Castles of Mad King Ludwig; Deus; Shakespeare; Troyes; Vikings

Top promo expansions to buy: Cacao: Volcanoes; The Castles of Burgundy: Trade Routes; NMBR 9: Extra Tiles; Roll For the Galaxy x2 (5)

Top large expansions to buy: Cacao: Diamante; Isle of Skye: Journeyman; Kingdom Builder: Harvest; Roll For the Galaxy: Ambition; Village Port (5)

Thursday, March 08, 2018

The Progressively Conservative 2018 Oscars

It happened again. For the second time in three years, I entered the announcement of Best Picture only one correct guess away from sweeping my picks of the nine major categories for the first time. And for the second time in three years, my pick for Best Picture spoiled an otherwise perfect night.

Of course, this time, I was picking the underdog over the favourite in the hopes that the history of the past two years would repeat itself, but I was disappointed that the Academy actually followed through this time and picked the predictable movie to win. But it was not just The Shape of Water's win that was predictable - it was almost every award of the night; aside from my miss on The Shape of Water, I missed only two other awards, and one of those was another award in which I picked the upset because I figured that there had to be a couple of upsets

The lesson here is that the Academy is risk-averse and will almost always choose the safest option, whether that is in its choices for the awards or for the ceremony, but it seems that they were even more so this year, only a year after the Best Picture flub and with #timesup and #metoo informing many of the decisions of nominees and presenters. It makes sense that they found a way to be both conservative and push their own limitations this year, and The Shape of Water makes sense as the winner - at least in the interim (more on that later).

That said, I do think there is a little more going here that requires some unpacking, so here are my thoughts on this year's Oscars, including the true historical comparison to what happened with Best Picture and some other awards to some of my personal highlights and my performance to a few assorted thoughts on the Oscars ceremony itself.

Historical comparison

When I first wrote my thoughts after the nominations, I compared this year to 2008 and 2013, which happened to be Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous runs at the Oscars. But it turned out that I missed the true comparison: 2015, when everyone just kind of decided that Birdman was the best movie of the year. Just take a look at all of the similarities between the two years:
  • An auteur film by a previously-nominated, well-loved, technically-adept Mexican director won Best Director and Best Picture (Birdman; The Shape of Water)
  • A biopic starring a British actor won Best Actor (The Theory of Everything; Darkest Hour)
  • A woman known for collaboration with the Coen brothers won Best Actress (Julianne Moore; Frances McDormand)
  • A passion project by a long-standing auteur director who had long been ignored by the Academy still ended up being mostly ignored by the Academy (Richard Linklater’s Boyhood; Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk)
  • Best Supporting Actor came from a film nominated for Best Picture and was given to a well-respected character actor in his first nomination (J.K. Simmons for Whiplash; Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
  • Alexandre Desplat won Best Original Score (The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Shape of Water)
Now, I know you could probably draw similar comparisons with many previous Oscar years, but this one seems particularly apropos, since Birdman and almost everything from that year have been all but forgotten, with two exceptions: Whiplash and Selma, which was itself famously mostly snubbed that year.

I imagine a similar fate will fall to many of the films from this year, likely including The Shape of Water. In five years, I think many people will look back and wonder how Get Out did not win Best Picture, how Lady Bird did not win anything, and how safe these Oscars were - if they remember them at all past those two movies.

On Best Picture

It is admittedly weird that a del Toro-directed monster romance flick set in the Cold War is now a Best Picture, but it makes a strange kind of sense once you start to parse the Academy's trajectory this year. They needed a movie that was not too out there politically but that was still progressive enough to keep the momentum from the last five years going, and The Shape of Water fit perfectly in that intersection.

I wonder, actually, if the choice of The Shape of Water is an example of a form of "moral licensing" - the idea that past progressive decisions or good deeds can help people justify future misdeeds or reversions to more conservative thinking. It's part of the explanation as to why Trump followed Obama, and it might help explain why after Moonlight - a story about a gay black kid - won last year, the Academy members had the moral license to not have to push the envelope further this year by picking Get Out.

Now, that does not entirely line up, since The Shape of Water is a love story about a fish man and a mute woman, and it also features a black woman and a gay man - boy, the heads on conservative talk radio must have been spinning on Monday - but it feels like a more classic Best Picture winner and so it is more "conservative" in that sense, much like Birdman was when it won three years ago a year after the Academy solved racism by choosing 12 Years a Slave.

I still defend my reasoning for picking Get Out to beat The Shape of Water, but I should have picked Water to win based on my own rules, several of which I broke this year in picking the upset. I did not trust the guilds, who overwhelmingly pointed to a Water win. I relied too much on history, as the upset wins of Spotlight and Moonlight in the past two years influenced my opinion significantly.

And worst of all, I didn’t trust my own gut; I knew I should have gone with The Shape of Water, but I could not shake the feeling that Get Out really had a shot to win, so I took the possible glory of the upset over the possible sweep. After all, some of the reasons I picked Get Out also applied to The Shape of Water - it was still a groundbreaking choice as a science fiction film, after all - and it was (ironically) the safe choice, despite its fundamental strangeness as a film and as an entry within the greater context of the scope of Best Picture winners.

The Shape of Water and science fiction

The Shape of Water is now the only science fiction movie to win Best Picture, which seems long overdue in the grand scheme of the Oscars, especially since science fiction has emerged as the primary box office draw genre in the 21st century thanks in large part to the boom in superhero culture (which I do count as a subgenre of science fiction, at least in a “soft” sense).

The list of science fiction films nominated for Best Picture before 2010 is very short, at merely three films - A Clockwork Orange; E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial; and Star Wars. The list has increased since the expansion of the number of nominees in 2010, with nine more Best Picture nominees added to the ranks in the past nine years: Arrival; Avatar; District 9; Gravity; Her; Inception; Mad Max: Fury Road; The Martian; and, of course, The Shape of Water.

The list of science fiction movies that have gotten some kind of recognition from the Academy, whether in the form of nominations or in some cases actual meaningful awards - over the years is slightly longer, but it still feels woefully under-representative of the genre as a whole. The list of other sci-fi movies that received another non-technical nomination - ie. for Directing, Acting, or Writing - is, as far as I can tell: 2001: A Space Odyssey; Aliens; Brazil; Children of Men; Close Encounters of the Third Kind; The Dark Knight; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Twelve Monkeys; and Wall-E.

There are also a few other notable examples of SF films that received nominations for technical awards only - Alien; Blade Runner; Jurassic Park; The Matrix; and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the latter of which won four awards in 1992 (!). And then, of course, there are even more SF movies that did not receive even that much recognition. There have, of course, been a few SF films snubbed even over the past nine years - Ex Machina; Interstellar; Moon; and Snowpiercer, for example - but the overall trend has been toward accepting and even embracing the genre that was often mostly ignored by the Academy; that dubious distinction now belongs almost exclusively to horror and comedy, which probably further explains why Get Out did not win.

So that is all a long way of saying that science fiction was long overdue for an award like this, so it's not a huge surprise that the genre was finally recognized. The genre's best previous chance was Avatar, which deservedly lost to The Hurt Locker almost a decade ago, and The Shape of Water is undoubtedly a much better choice. Of course, all this means is that in the next year or two, one of the all-time incredible science fiction films will be released and the Academy will not have it win because The Shape of Water just won. And so it goes...

On the rest of the awards

The awards were not only safe, but arguably equitably distributed among major films; of the nine Best Picture nominees, only The Post (with only two nominations) and Lady Bird went completely unrewarded for the night. It was a definitely disappointing that Lady Bird, which was in many ways as much an accomplishment as Get Out, ended up in direct competition with that film for its awards, but it's the unfortunate reality that there is often one major nominee that does not receive any awards, and that turned out to be Lady Bird this year. I think it will remain one of the cult favourites of the year - much like Juno lingers from a decade ago - and at least we have some great memes to express our collective feelings at its absence.

Gary Oldman, Sam Rockwell, and Allison Janney are certainly all worthy of the mantle of “Academy Award Winner” - if not for these roles, then for some role at some point in their careers - but what is most incredible is that the three of them had only earned one nomination between them before this year. Frances McDormand is definitely worthy of being on the short list of actresses to win two Oscars and the even shorter list of actresses (or actors) to win Best Actress (or Actor) twice (fourteen actresses and nine actors, FYI).

It did not go without notice, however, that the average age of these winners was 56.5 years old and that the average color was white, so it seems like #OscarsSoWhite is not quite dead yet. In other hashtag news, it was problematic that Oldman and Kobe Bryant - both accused abusers - won without comment from them of their pasts on a night that also featured a number of implicit and explicit references to the shifts in Hollywood over the past year.

Of the technical awards, the one I tend to care about the most is Cinematography (Editing is a distant second), so I was very excited to finally see one of my favourite cinematographers - Roger Deakins - finally win his (well-deserved) Oscar for Blade Runner 2049, even though it probably should have been his third or fourth win. If you don't believe me, here’s the list of his nominations:

The Shawshank Redemption; Fargo; Kundun; O Brother, Where Art Thou?; The Man Who Wasn’t There; The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; No Country for Old Men; The Reader; True Grit; Skyfall; Prisoners; Unbroken; Sicario; and, finally, Blade Runner 2049. 14 nominations in 24 years with no gap of longer than six years between nominations (2001-2007, when the worked with the Coens on their two worst movies), and that list does not include his work on Oscar nominees such as Dead Man Walking; A Beautiful Mind; Doubt; Revolutionary Road; and A Serious Man.

Some of those losses were justified - say, his work on No Country losing to Robert Elswit’s timeless work on There Will Be Blood or his work on Sicario losing to Emmanuel Lubezki’s work on Birdman - but this was an example of the Academy finally correcting a woeful oversight, much like Martin Scorsese finally winning Best Director in 2006 for The Departed.

I was also glad to see Blade Runner 2049 receive the Oscar for Visual Effects and to see Dunkirk receive Oscars for both Sound categories and for Editing. Overall, I had few complaints with the awards given, and I was also quite pleased to see that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri did not win any non-acting categories; it's an interesting enough film with some great performances, but I think its success was wildly overblown and that the Academy will be glad it did not win in any other categories.

The ceremony itself

I was more underwhelmed by this year's telecast than I had been in previous years. Maybe I had been expecting more of the show due to the Time's Up and Me Too movements than I should have been, or maybe it seemed like it should have been more momentous, but it was mostly risk-averse and safe - mostly.

It didn’t click for me until last night, but Jimmy Kimmel is basically Ellen for bros. He knows his schtick and he schticks to it, whether it's working or not. There were a couple of genuinely inspired moments, and I think he had the right mix of irreverent and self-aware to manage what could have been a disaster, but it seemed like he was playing it really safe this year. I was slightly disappointed with his performance, actually - a lot of his jokes were more lackluster and predictable than they could (or should) have been, and his gag - taking stars over to a theatre to meet the ordinary people - fell flat. He had a few good moments in his monologue, but he was

There were a few great moments, though. Maya Rudolph and Tiffany Haddish stole the show as presenters. The acknowledgement of Salma Hayek, Ashley Judd, and Anabella Sciorra as presenters was meaningful, and even though the video they introduced felt a little forced in terms of the overall narrative of the night by "acknowledging new voices" (mostly Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig), it was a great attempt.

Janney and Rockwell gave classic actors' acceptance speeches; I especially appreciated Janney's opening line "I did it all by myself" and Rockwell's anecdote about skipping school to go to the movies and his dedication of his award to Philip Seymour Hoffman. McDormand's moment will be long remembered for its emblematic significance more than the speech itself, as it helped give the ceremony a narrative and a sense of the stepping into the importance that hovered over the evening's proceedings from its onset.

Update on my picks

I'm now on a four-year-long streak of mispredicting Best Picture, but my overall stats for prognostication improved ever so slightly with this year's performance, from 83/117 (70.9%) to 91/126 (72.2%). And aside from the year in which I really missed the boat (Birdman in 2015), I have a very strong streak going over the past decade, aside from those misses on Best Picture. (By the way, The Shape of Water now joins Spotlight, Her, The Iron Lady, and Milk as the movies that have spoiled my attempt at a sweep over the years.

Results by year:
2018: 8/9 (missed Picture)
2017: 7/9 (missed Picture and Actor)
2016: 8/9 (missed Picture)
2015: 4/9 (missed Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Original Screenplay, and Animated Feature)
2014: 8/9 (missed Original Screenplay)
2013: 6/9 (missed Director, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature)
2012: 8/9 (missed Actress)
2011: 7/9 (missed Director and Original Screenplay)
2010: 6/9 (missed Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Original Screenplay)
2009: 8/9 (missed Actor)
2008: 6/9 (missed Actress, Supporting Actress, and Adapted Screenplay)
2007: 5/9 (missed Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature)
2006: 7/9 (missed Picture and Supporting Actress)
2005: 7/9 (missed Picture and Original Screenplay)

Results by category:
Best Picture: 6/14 (missed 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)
Best Director: 11/14 (missed 2011, 2013, 2015)
Best Actor: 11/14 (missed 2007, 2009, 2017)
Best Actress: 12/14 (missed 2008, 2012)
Best Supporting Actor: 12/14 (missed 2007, 2013)
Best Supporting Actress: 12/14 (missed 2006, 2008)
Best Original Screenplay: 9/14 (missed 2005, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015)
Best Adapted Screenplay: 11/14 (missed 2008, 2010, 2015)
Best Animated Feature: 11/14 (missed 2007, 2013, 2015)


2017 was a great year for film and a decent year for the Academy Awards, even though it could be argued that they played it a little safe. They continued to make progress in regard to inclusion and acknowledgement of a more diverse array of films, even though they still nominated and even awarded some of the classic Oscar bait. They finally awarded a science fiction film, even though it was a "soft" science fiction that will likely not rank that highly within the overall genre in time. And it seems like the world of #OscarsSoWhite might be a thing of the past in regard to nominations, but the winners were all white.

I do think that several movies from this year will stand the test of time. Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, and Phantom Thread seem like they will have a lasting impact either within their genres, for their social impact, or as well-crafted films, and I have a feeling that Three Billboards is headed for a reputation as a divisive film. I still have to see a few of the key movies - namely The Shape of Water, Phantom Thread, and Darkest Hour - but I know that I will be rewatching many of these films for years to come. This actually might end up being one of my favourite Oscar years as a result of the success of most of the nominated films, which is really saying something.

I am hoping for a bit more risk at next year's Oscars. There are a few interesting movies coming out later in the year that will likely at least figure into the conversation for next year's Oscars: Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in Damien Chazelle's First Man, Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody as Freddie Mercury, and Saiorse Ronan and Margot Robbie in Mary, Queen of Scots.

But the main point of conversation for next year's awards is what will happen with Black Panther; it seems likely to earn a few technical nominations (Costume Design, Production Design, and Cinematography for sure), but it will remain to be seen if it can crack any of the other categories (like Michael B. Jordan as supporting actor). That would be a first for Marvel and a risk for the Academy, so let's hope that something can keep shaking up the Oscars, even if it's just the choice of a new edgier host - maybe someone like Kumail Nanjiani.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Oscars 2018: Final Picks

The Oscars are coming up on Sunday, so it's time for me to engage in my annual tradition of possible public embarrassment and lock in my picks for the Academy Awards. I have been picking the Oscars for over a quarter of a century, and although I have a decent track record  - a 70.9% success rate picking all nine major categories over the past thirteen years, with four years in which I picked 8/9 correctly - I really struggle with picking Best Picture, and this year seems no different.

That said, I'm going to leave my Best Picture pick for last and start with (what should be) the easiest categories to predict: the Acting categories and Animated Feature, which have all seemed to be locked in since the beginning of the race and for which no commentary seems necessary.

Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney in I, Tonya.

Best Actress: Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Best Actor: Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour.

Best Animated Feature: Coco.

The Writing and Directing categories are a bit more interesting, however...

Best Adapted Screenplay: I thought initially that James Ivory would win for Call Me By Your Name, and his win at the Writers' Guild only solidified that opinion. I do not see an upset here, and this will serve as a way for the ardent fans of the film to honor not only its writing, but also Ivory's entire career.

Best Original Screenplay: I thought earlier that Greta Gerwig might win this category over Martin McDonagh, but now I think that the momentum belongs to Jordan Peele, and that his WGA win for Get Out will also give him the Oscar. I think, however, that whoever wins this category may give us an idea of which way the biggest award of the evening may swing.

Best Director: Guillermo del Toro won the Directors Guild Award and The Shape of Water won the Producers Guild Award, so I think he has this one locked up. The Academy does not want the optics of giving the Best Director award to a white male this year, so Christopher Nolan will have to wait yet again, even though Dunkirk might have been his best chance thanks to the fickle nature of the Academy. (Or it just means that he could win for one of his next few films that might not be quite as good, as tends to happen with the Academy - like when Guillermo del Toro wins this year.)

Best Picture

This has been the most competitive year I can remember in regard to the Best Picture race. Usually, by this point, there are only two movies that could win; this year, I count four that have a decent chance at the prize. I have had a very difficult time choosing which one will win as a result - so much so that I cannot shake the feeling that no matter which movie I pick to win, I'll be wrong. That would make four incorrect Best Picture guesses in a row, by the way - although only one of those misses (when I did not pick Birdman to win) will have been truly indefensible. Here are my thoughts on the chances of each picture.

No chance: Call Me By Your NameDarkest Hour; Lady Bird; Phantom Thread; and The Post. I had originally thought that Lady Bird might have more of a shot, but it just does not seem to have the momentum to win, even though James England's model, which has correctly predicted the last two upsets using his crowd-sourcing technique, has it listed as an overwhelming favourite. I do not think he will three-peat, but some of his other results have informed my own.

Here are the cases for and against the remaining four nominees, in my estimation of least likely to most likely.

Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan's WWII film has stayed in the conversation for a long time, and with good reason. There has not been a war movie named as Best Picture since The Hurt Locker in 2010, and there's usually one named in every decade. That said, there is also a long history of critically lauded, technically excellent war movies not winning Best Picture (Apocalypse Now, Saving Private Ryan), so that pattern is by no means an indication that a war movie will win in the near future.

The main reason I have not been able to shake Dunkirk from the top contenders - other than its eight nominations - is the possibility of its winning based on the preferential voting system. If, like many pundits expect, The Post and Darkest Hour are the two least popular films after the first vote, there is a good chance that the voters who prioritized those movies would also put Dunkirk high on their lists.

So, depending on the how voters rank the other movies, it could sneak a win if it is named second on enough ballots. That said, it just has not seemed to garner the kind of buzz that it has needed, even as a possible front-runner, so I think it is far more likely to end up on the perennials lists of "Best Movies That Did NOT Win Best Picture", which will likely help its long-term legacy, rather than harming it.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: This drama took hold of the #MeToo moment more than any other movie, and its Golden Globe win gave it an early front-runner status that has somewhat inexplicably lasted through the backlash the movie received. But perhaps the most problematic issue is not with the movie's awkward treatment of racial politics or revenge fantasies: it is the decreased age of Academy voters and the consideration of what a Best Picture is now.

I think we no longer live in a time in which The Artist or Argo or maybe even Birdman could win Best Picture. The increase in youth in the Academy and the way that the social media narrative has escalated even in the past three years seems to have changed the Oscars, and that will hurt movies like Three Billboards. There seems to be a much bigger focus on the legacy of these movies, and no one wants to see another Crash - a movie to which Three Billboards has been unfavourably compared in recent weeks thanks to the way in which its politics are being regarded and the content and method of the movie itself. It's not an entirely fair comparison - Three Billboards is superior to Crash, and there's no instant classic like Brokeback Mountain for it to defeat in an upset, but the fact that it's there might be enough to keep voters away.

The Shape of Water: I have not seen del Toro's Cold War romance yet, but I just do not get how this is the front-runner going into the final weekend - and I count myself as a del Toro fan. Sure, there is a past in which the kind of historical placement and ethical considerations of a movie like this would have helped it win, but there is a far longer history of movies like this NOT winning; romances rarely win, and a science fiction film has never won. That's not to say that it could not happen for the first time now, but I just cannot see the Academy overturning ninety years of sci-fi snubbing to award the Cold War "fish sex" movie.

This is where I'm probably going to be wrong, as this is the movie that many pundits are picking to win, but I'm at peace with not picking it to win. I would rather take the chance to predict something else to win and be wrong about it than to predict this to win and be right (even though there is a good chance I will really enjoy this movie whenever I get around to it).

Get Out: I can't believe I'm doing this, but after a lot of consideration, I cannot shake the fact that I think that Get Out not only could but will win Best Picture, and here's why: I really think that the context, the narrative, the voting procedures of Best Picture all play into this vote. And, for the record, both Vanity Fair and The Ringer have similar reasoning to mine, as I discovered after reasoning through my picks.

Three Billboards has gotten press for its political acumen, but I think that Get Out has more momentum in regard to its popular regard as a way to capture the current moment. The last two (surprise) Best Picture winners - Spotlight and Moonlight - both seemed to win as a way to capture the moment, and I just don't think that Academy voters will see other nominees as doing that. Get Out says and does things about race that capture the last few years of American politics in a way that Moonlight did not even manage (which is not meant as a slight against Moonlight), and I think the voters will see that as a reason to vote for Get Out.

Get Out has a couple of narrative hooks aside from its political context that advance its case. First, there has only been one horror movie to win Best Picture - The Silence of the Lambs in 1992 - and even that is a stretch of genre. Get Out is, of course, an inversion of the traditional horror film, but it adheres to the tropes of the genre much more closely, and so it would be the first true horror film to win. It also has the story of being both a micro-budget movie to succeed and a huge box office success (unlike Moonlight last year), so it has a lot of popular appeal and automatically serves as a refutation to the constant refrain that the Academy only picks movies that no one has seen.

Finally, I think the Academy's system of voting will advantage Get Out. I really think it has a very strong base of voters who will rank it in their top two, and I think it will generally rank higher on ballots than either Three Billboards (which seems like a first ballot or bust kind of vote) or The Shape of Water. Get Out has a lot of support, as demonstrated by its nomination, and I think it will be one of the movies that people will want to be remembered from this year.

I really think that the idea of the legacy of the Oscars is a bigger deal now than it has been, and that the Academy as a whole does not want another Crash or The Artist or even Argo; they want to pick the movie that people will remember from that year, whether it is the "best" or not. No one maligns No Country for Old Men as a winner even though There Will Be Blood is widely considered to be the Citizen Kane of the 21st century, since No Country is still a great movie and representative of that year, and it's much better in comparison to Blood than the comparison between Citizen Kane and the movie to which it lost, How Green Was My Valley. Get Out is that movie to remember from 2017, and since there is no Citizen Kane this year, I'm picking Get Out in the upset.

Other Categories

There are, of course, other categories at the Oscars, so here are my picks on the other categories.

Animated Short: Dear Basketball (which means that Kobe Bryant would have an Oscar)

Cinematography: Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049

Costume Design: Mark Bridges for Phantom Thread

Documentary: Icarus (a win for Netflix!)

Editing: Lee Smith for Dunkirk (although a Baby Driver win would not surprise me here)

Foreign Film: A Fantastic Woman from Chile

Makeup and Hairstyling: Darkest Hour

Music (Original Score): Alexandre Desplat for The Shape of Water

Music (Original Song): "Remember Me" from Coco

Production Design: The Shape of Water

Sound Editing: Dunkirk

Sound Mixing: Baby Driver

Visual Effects: War for the Planet of the Apes (as the trilogy finally gets its Oscar)


Whatever happens at the awards, it has been one of the most engaging Best Picture races in years - at least since 2010-11 when the category was expanded. I suspect that the viewership will be higher this year because of the nature of some of the films included, and because a lot of people are interested to see how host Jimmy Kimmel rebounds after last year's flub and how he addresses #TimesUp, #MeToo, and even the Parkland School Shooting. This has the possibility to be an all-time great Oscars ceremony, so I'm fascinated to see how it all unfolds.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Turner Pop Culture Update (Q4 2017)

It's hard to believe that it's already a month into 2018 and I still had not published my thoughts on the final quarter of 2017, but here they are, better late than never.

What I experienced

Blade Runner 2049 - I'm still unpacking my thoughts on this thinky dystopian movie, but I think there is a lot here worth returning to, and I think it will end up ranking among my favourite movies of 2017. Also, if Denis Villeneuve ends up directing Dune as the rumours go, this movie is proof that it will be a very, very worthwhile pursuit for him to do so.

The Dark Tower - I've never read the Stephen King series, but it's hard to imagine that it was reduced to what effectively amounted to a YA adaptation. That said, I enjoyed the movie well enough; it had a few fun moments, some scene-chewing from Matthew McConaughey, and a couple of fantastic action scenes all packed into ninety minutes. Not the worst way I've spent a Saturday afternoon.

John Green - Turtles All The Way Down - Green's first novel in years was his most personal yet, and arguably his most interesting since Looking For Alaska. It was worth the read, and it might be worth a re-read at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Lady Bird - I really enjoyed this coming-of-age movie - perhaps more than any of its genre since Juno a decade ago. There's a lot of great moments in this movie, along with a lot of nuance, and I will definitely enjoy this one repeatedly.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - I felt that I wanted to see it again before I shared my "official" review, but my initial reaction was that it missed the mark from what it could have been and perhaps took the narrative in a direction that may prove to be less useful for Episode IX. I have not yet watched it again, but my initial reaction has not really changed over the past six weeks.

Stranger Things (Season 2, Netflix) - I wrote my thoughts out here, but the summary is that I think I enjoyed this more than I "should" have, if that makes sense. But it was just so much fun, aside from that one episode...

Survivor: Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers (Season 35, CBS) - Although I was initially concerned about this season, it turned out to be really interesting near the end. That said, the producers threw in one final twist that I think really undid the game, and it's starting to feel more and more like they're tinkering too much with the game to keep its integrity.

Thor: Ragnarok - This cosmic buddy comedy was easily the most fun I had watching a movie in the theatres last year. I'm looking forward to watching it again.

The Tick (Season 1, Amazon) - The Tick was one of my favourite cartoons in the 90s, and I think the live-action Fox series from 2001 was significantly underrated, so I was very interested to see how this reboot would work and whether it would recapture or preserve the tone of the big blue hero. I was glad to see that not only did they keep the right balance of satire and superhero, but the ways in which this series has resonance in areas of mental health in its nascent episodes were very intriguing. Also, Peter Serafinowicz is great as The Tick.

U2 - Songs of Experience - I was not sure what I thought when I started listening to the album, but I really started to appreciate it after half a dozen listens. There are some great songs here, and I think there might be some slow-burning classics.

Also: Black Mirror (Series 3); Blade RunnerBrooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 5, Fox); The OA (Season 1, Netflix); O.J.: Made in AmericaSnowpiercer

What I missed

American Vandal (Season 1, Netflix) - This faux-documentary looks pretty funny.

Andy Weir - Artemis - The author of The Martian released his second book, which has already been optioned for a movie by Lord and Miller, which means it should be exciting and funny.

Black Mirror (Series 4, Netflix) - Although I did watch U.S.S. Callister, the first episode that brilliantly sends up Star Trek, I did not have a chance to watch the rest of the season.

Dark (Season 1, Netflix) - A German Stranger Things with time travel? Yeah, seems like something I'd be into.

Doctor Who: Twice Upon A Time (BBC) - The 2017 Christmas Special features the new Doctor, Jodie Whittaker. It'll be interesting, to say the least.

Godless (Season 1, Netflix) - Enough people have recommended this short-form western to me that I really want to check it out.

The Good Place (Season 2, NBC) - This was one of my favourite shows of the past year, but I might wait until closer to the end of this season to binge it all at once.

Mr. Robot (Season 3, USA) - I'll get around to it sooner or later when I can just binge it.

Star Trek: Discovery (Season 1, CBS All-Access) - I really enjoyed the first episode, but then I did not keep up with it. I'll get into it soon.

Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo Switch) - Natch.

7 movies (and counting): Darkest Hour; The Disaster ArtistDownsizingThe Killing of a Sacred Deer; Molly's GameThe PostThe Shape of Water

What I skipped

Curb Your Enthusiasm (Season 9, HBO) - I still need to catch up on a few seasons, so I'm sure I'll get to it eventually.

Justice League - Like most DCEU releases, I'm sure I'll watch it at some point just to see how bad it really is. And it can't be worse than Batman v. Superman or Suicide Squad...can it?

Mindhunter (Season 1, Netflix) - I was intrigued by this Fincher-directed retro serial killer drama, but I'm just not sure I can do the serial killer thing right now. I'm keeping it on my radar, but it may not end up in my queue.

Pitch Perfect 3 - Loved the first, tolerated the second, ignored the third. Seems about right.

Suburbicon - I was initially more excited about this Coen-penned Clooney-directed movie, but after middling reviews, I demoted it to "might catch on Netflix sometime" status.

In the Queue

The ongoing list of the top items in my pop culture queue, which is updated every quarter (often from items that I have missed). An asterisk (*) indicates a new addition to the list.

Movies: Logan; Molly's Game*; Moonlight; Phantom Thread*; The Shape of Water*; Wind River

Top television to watch: Black Mirror (Series 4)*; Doctor Who: Twice Upon A Time (2017 Christmas Special); The Handmaid's Tale (Season 1); Mr. Robot (Season 3)*; Sherlock (Season 4); Star Trek: Discovery (Season 1)*; Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season 3)

Television short projects: Broadchurch (Season 2-3); The Hour (Season 1-2); Morton & Hayes

Television long projects: Curb Your EnthusiasmParks and Recreation (Seasons 5-7); Star Trek: The Original SeriesThe West WingThe Wire

Television to investigate: American Vandal (Season 1)*; BoJack Horseman (Season 1-4);
Dark (Season 1)*; Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (Season 1); The Expanse (Season 1-2)*; GLOW (Season 1); Godless (Season 1)*; Great News (Season 1-2); The Man in the High Castle (Season 1-2); Master of None (Season 1-2); Superstore (Season 1-2); Top of the Lake (Season 1-2)*; The Young Pope (Season 1)

Video Games: Chrono Trigger (DS); Earthbound (SNES); The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D (3DS); Pikmin 3 (Wii U); Splatoon 2 (Switch); Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)*

Non-Fiction Books: Brené Brown - Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection; Bruxy Cavey - (Re)union; Matthew Paul Turner - Provocative Faith; Ann Voskamp - The Broken Way and One Thousand Gifts

Fiction Books: N.K. Jemisin - The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky of The Broken Earth trilogy; Kim Stanley Robinson - Mars trilogy; Andy Weir - Artemis*

Looking forward to Quarter 1

Annihilation (February 23) - Alex Garland (Ex Machina) adapts the weird story of Area X.

Atlanta Robbin' Season (Season 2, FX, March 1) -
Although this season is supposed to be a bit less experimental than Season 1, the creators mentioned in interviews that they were inspired by Tiny Toons: How I Spent My Summer Vacation, one of my all-time favourites. Well then.

Black Panther (February 16) - I'm totally on the hype train. #teampanther

The Death of Stalin (March 9) - The latest satire from Armando Iannucci looks hilarious.

Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams (Season 1, Amazon, January 12) - This short-form collection of Dick's stories looks intriguing.

Isle of Dogs (March 23) - Wes Anderson's newest stop-motion film looks like it might be as good as the

Phantom Thread - Paul Thomas Anderson is back!

Survivor: Ghost Island (Season 36, CBS. February 28) - 18 years and still going strong, though I do hope they pull back on the twists. That said, this season's theme of past relics and mistakes seems like they might try some really wacky new ideas, which seems like the wrong decision to me.

Jack White - Boarding House Reach (March 23) - You can't go wrong with White.

A Wrinkle in Time (March 9) - The classic children's fantasy novel gets what looks to be a very empowering treatment from director Ava DuVernay.

Other possible items of interest: 90th Academy Awards (March 4); Altered Carbon (Season 1, Netflix, February 2); The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX, January 17); Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (Season 2, Netflix, January 5); Dirty Money (Season 1, Netflix, January 26); Pacific Rim: Uprising (March 23); Ready Player One (March 30); Tomb Raider (March 16); Trust (Season 1, FX, March 25)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

2018 Oscar Nominations: First Reactions

This really is a weird year for the Academy Awards. At the risk of seeming too optimistic, it seems like this might be somewhat of a transitional year, as many of this year's narratives and nominations display a progressiveness that has begun to emerge in the past two or three years; then again, there are also a few nominations that demonstrate the entrenched nature of much of the Academy, so maybe change is still working its way through the ranks and might take a little while.

At any rate, the general conversation looked - and was arguably supposed to be - much different as recently as two months ago. When I posted my (admittedly late) "early thoughts" six weeks ago, I assumed the leaders after the nominations would be Call Me By Your Name, Dunkirk, and The Post; then, in the past few weeks, Get Out, Lady Bird, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri took the lead; and now the Cold War fish-man romance story The Shape of Water is the leading contender, along with Three Billboards. What a weird year it has turned out to be.

Despite the general weirdness of this year, however, I nailed my predictions from my early thoughts. I had all nine Best Picture nominees listed among my top ten contenders, and I am very proud that I actually (mostly) predicted that these nine would be the nominees, other than underestimating the final number of nominees:

"I think the Best Picture field will be seven films: Call Me By Your NameDunkirkGet OutLady BirdThe PostThe Shape of Water, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which has come on strongly of late. If it ends up being a field of eight films (the lowest previous mark), I think the next most likely nominee would be Phantom Thread, with Darkest Hour having an outside shot if it can get enough attention separate from Dunkirk."

Of the eighteen films that make up the nominees in the top eight awards (Picture, Directing, Acting, and Writing), I had mentioned all eighteen in my write-up , which included thirty-five films in total. In fact, out of the eleven films that received nominations for multiple awards among those eight top categories, the only nominee that I mentioned in passing as part of the long list (mostly to cover all my bases in circumstances like these) was Mudbound, which caught many people by surprise with a total of four nominations.

As usual, I will start with some overall observations on the race in general, before continuing with a short summary of my thoughts on each race as it stands at this point in time.

Five general observations about the 2018 Oscar Nominations

1. #OscarsSoWhite seems to be a thing of the past...for now. There was some concern that even after last year's breaking of the two-year streak of #OscarsSoWhite (ie. no nominees of colour in the acting categories) that the Academy might return to the whitewashing of its recent past, but that does not seem to be the case. In fact, there seems to be more expansion of the franchise to more people than ever before, including the first female nominated for Cinematography, the fifth female and the fifth black male nominated for Directing, and the first black woman nominated for Writing. The numbers are still staggeringly low for the entirety of the Academy's ninety-year history, but at least they're trending in the right direction.

2. #MeToo and #TimesUp have definitely affected the race. At least two Acting nominations (Denzel Washington for Roman J. Israel, Esq. likely replacing James Franco's omission for The Disaster Artist and Christopher Plummer's inclusion for All the Money in the World) can be traced to the recent developments, and current front runner Three Billboards owes almost all of its success to its timing.

3. The Oscars have (apparently) become more of a meritocracy. After many years of lamentations about how worthy movies have been left out of the nominations or even the conversation, this seems to be a year in which most of the movies that deserve to be there actually are. It's not hard to remember a time when a movie like Get Out would have been snubbed, or when an auteur-driven film with a passionate fan base like Phantom Thread would have earned only a couple of nominations rather than the six it received. Although there are of course still vestiges of the stereotypical "Oscar" movie, it does seem to be lining up more with overall critical wisdom than it has before.

4. The Conservative (ie. "old white male") wing of the Academy is still alive and well. How else can you explain the presence of Darkest Hour and The Post among the Best Picture nominees? They are both movies that largely appeal to older and more conservative voters, and they have mostly been rejected by much of the critical community. (As an aside, I very much enjoyed The Post, even though it was a tad overdrawn and unsubtle at times.) Dunkirk likely would have earned its nomination anyway, but the inclusion of these other two films is clear evidence that those old white guys still have some clout and they are not afraid to use it.

5.  The Acting races are boring...again. There are overwhelming favourites in each of the four Acting races, and it's really hard to see any of them losing. But this happens pretty much every year at this point, and there's not much that can be done about it, it seems. I have benefitted from this predictability in my own prognostications, though: in the past eight years, I have missed only three Acting winners in total, and only two in the past five, so I suppose it's not all bad that they are more coronation than competition.

Historical Oscar Comparisons

This year reminds me in particular of two previous Oscar years: 2008 and 2013. I recognize, of course, that there is a certain sameness among many of the years, but I have specific reasons that those two years come to mind above the others. In 2008, the Coen brothers won over a PTA film and a movie about a teenage girl and a movie with Saiorse Ronan with one of the best depictions of Dunkirk in what turned out to be one of the best years for movies in recent memory; this year, the Coen-esque Three Billboards has the lead over a PTA film, a movie with Saiorse Ronan about a teenage girl, and two movies about Dunkirk.

The comparison to 2013 is a little less direct, and it's more about the feel of the year, rather than the specific personalities involved, although there are some direct comparisons, even though, like this year, There was a Spielberg historical film, an iconic performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, and a PTA film (The Master, which should have been nominated for Picture and Directing) in the mix. Argo ended up winning despite not having its director nominated, which is a feat that Three Billboards would have to duplicate if it were to win. The nine Best Picture nominees that year - Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty - featured a mix of studio films, auteurs, indies, and mostly well-regarded films that just feels more similar to this year's group than any other year.

Both of those comparisons seem to lead to a Three Billboards victory, but if I've learned anything over the past few years, it's that no victory is inevitable - even after the envelope has been opened. Here are my reactions to the nominations.

Thoughts on the Nine Major Awards

Best Picture: As usual, the nine nominees divide neatly into three strata according to how likely a win is at this point. There are the also-rans that seemingly have absolutely no chance of winning: Call Me By Your Name; Darkest Hour; and The Post. These films have been trending downward with their nominations and critical regard. Then there are the middle three that are more indie, auteur-driven films that probably will not win, but for which there is a narrative that could be written to their victory thanks to a passionate group of supporters: Get Out; Lady Bird; and Phantom Thread.

And then there are the three clear leaders: Dunkirk; The Shape of Water; and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Not only do they lead in number of nominations, but they are the only three Best Picture nominees also nominated for Best Film Editing, a correlation which is highly predictive of a winner. (Birdman managed to win in 2015 without a nomination, but there were only a few edits in the entire film, so it makes sense as an exception to the rule.) And yes, I still include Dunkirk with the other two, and I have not resigned myself to the fact that Three Billboards will win the Oscar; in fact, I think there is reason to doubt the victory that many people are calling inevitable. It's a great film, but it's far from perfect, and I think the backlash might do it in over the next six weeks.

It's also legitimately weird to me that a del Toro monster movie that features "fish sex" is not only in the running, but the film that leads in nominations with thirteen; that said, aside from voters with long memories paying penance for their treatment of Pan's Labyrinth over a decade ago, I see a very easy path to The Shape of Water not winning. That leaves Dunkirk free to sweep up a lot of the mainstream votes and hope that the independent auteur films divide the votes among them, and I think that still might be the most conceivable narrative. Or maybe I'm overthinking it or just being too optimistic about Dunkirk's chances, and it really will be Three Billboards. Either way, whichever one I pick will likely be incorrect, since I'm really good at not picking this category correctly.

Best Director: It looks like Guillermo del Toro is the leader here, and although I am pleased that GdT is getting some of the recognition that he has long deserved, my relative happiness at his success is overcome by the reality that I'm more disappointed that Christopher Nolan seems unlikely to win.

Christopher Nolan has the worst timing. He and The Dark Knight were snubbed in 2009, which prompted a change in rules the next year from which he only partially managed to benefit two years later with Inception, receiving a nomination for Best Picture but not for Best Directing for what was one of the most audacious blockbuster films of the last decade. Of course, that was the year that the Director's branch gave the Oscar to Tom Hooper over David Fincher, so there's not a lot of credibility there.

This year, he made the what could become the definitive war movie of the decade in a completely innovative way that would easily be the front runner in any other year, but he also has the misfortune to have directed what is arguably the whitest, malest movie of the year in a time when there is a deliberate movement away from that end of the cinematic spectrum. Oh well, he's still a young guy (relatively speaking for Directors), and this is only his first nomination as a Director, after all... (a fact that still boggles my mind).

Best Actor: I had assumed that Gary Oldman had this wrapped up months ago, and although I think he is still the clear leader, I just don't know how the current climate and his history will affect the vote. That said, I think he will still win for Darkest Hour. If I had to pick competition for him, it would be either Daniel Day-Lewis in his final performance or the upstart Timothée Chalamet, but the only real way that Oldman does not win is because of some issues in his past. I tend to think this will provide a narrative of reconciliation, so Oldman easily wins.

Best Actress: This is a very strong field of contenders - perhaps the strongest in years - but the path is clear for Frances McDormand to win her second Oscar for Three Billboards. Saiorse Ronan is the runner-up for Lady Bird, and although Hollywood loves an ingenue, wins for Emma Stone and Brie Larson in the last two years make it even more likely that they will award the very deserving McDormand.

Best Supporting Actor: I had Willem Dafoe pegged as the early front runner, but this is Rockwell's to lose, since he has won all of the awards so far. I have been a huge fan of Rockwell since he played Guy Fleegman in Galaxy Quest, so I'm very happy about him finally getting the recognition he has deserved for years. (He wasn't even nominated for The Green Mile.) And yes, there are some problematic aspects to his character arc, but that's not his fault.

Best Supporting Actress: It's the battle of the domineering mothers: Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird and Allison Janney in I, Tonya. Janney has the clear lead, and she'll move one step closer to an EGOT with the win, even though it maybe "should" be Metcalf.

Best Original Screenplay: This is a loaded category, with four Best Picture nominees included in the mix. I think it will be between Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird and Martin McDonagh for Three Billboards, and I could see either of the two winning. I would have said that McDonagh was in the lead, but he was the only nominee in either Screenplay category who was not nominated for the Writers' Guild Awards, and there is a bit of a backlash toward the "whitesplaining" and "mansplaining" of the film. That leaves Gerwig in the lead, and I think there are enough people who want to see her win (and who rightfully believe she deserves it) that it very well could happen.

Best Adapted Screenplay: This is a much more wide open category, with only one Best Picture nominee (Call Me By Your Name) in the mix, along with a few wild cards (Logan and The Disaster Artist). James Ivory is 89 years old, and although he has directed films have been nominated for Best Picture and even won for Screenplay (Howards End in 1993), he has never won an Oscar himself. I think he breaks the streak this year.

Best Animated Feature: Coco will win, no question.

Thoughts on other categories

Music: Although I think Coco will likely win Original Song, I'm rooting for Sufjan Stevens - and I think he definitely has a decent shot at winning. And I think Denis Villeneuve was right: Blade Runner 2049 should have been nominated for Best Original Score, especially over John Williams' work for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Score might be Alexandre Desplat's to lose for The Shape of Water, but there's a narrative for either Jonny Greenwood (Phantom Thread) or Carter Burwell (Three Billboards) to win after surprisingly iconic careers either scoring or curating films for two of the most idiosyncratic filmmakers of the past twenty-five years (Paul Thomas Anderson and Joel and Ethan Coen, respectively.)

Documentary and Foreign Film: There are some really interesting movies in these races, so I'm looking forward to when they appear on Netflix (as most of them seem to do fairly quickly after their nominations).

Technique awards (Cinematography, Film Editing): These are two of the most fascinating categories of this year's Oscars for me, as I feel certain to be both elated and disappointed by whoever wins because it means that someone equally (or more) deserving will lose. I'm rooting for Roger Deakins for Cinematography for Blade Runner 2049, especially because he has inexplicably never won despite thirteen previous nominations, several of which are for incredibly visually iconic films. I'm also hoping for and expecting Lee Smith to win for Film Editing for Dunkirk.

Technical awards: I see the technical awards as a toss-up among Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, and Blade Runner 2049, but I'm not sure that any one of them will dominate as some movies have in recent years.

Past Results

For the record, here are my yearly results for my predictions since I started publicly posting them in 2005. I picked the Oscars before that year, but I have no record for those picks anywhere, so I do not include those statistics here. I do know, however, that my percentages were roughly the same, with a couple of exceptions: I was probably worse on the Screenplay awards and I was much stronger on the Best Picture predictions, as I am fairly certain that the only pick I definitely got incorrect from 1993 to 2004 was when Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan (although I think I picked Apollo 13 over Braveheart in 1996, now that I think about it). Even with those misses, maybe I should find a way to record those as part of my overall performance after all...

Results by year:
2017: 7/9 - missed Picture and Actor
2016: 8/9 - missed Picture
2015: 4/9 - missed Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Original Screenplay, and Animated Feature
2014: 8/9 - missed Original Screenplay
2013: 6/9 - missed Director, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature
2012: 8/9 - missed Actress
2011: 7/9 - missed Director and Original Screenplay
2010: 6/9 - missed Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Original Screenplay
2009: 8/9 - missed Actor
2008: 6/9 - missed Actress, Supporting Actress, and Adapted Screenplay
2007: 5/9 - missed Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature
2006: 7/9 - missed Picture and Supporting Actress
2005: 7/9 - missed Picture and Original Screenplay

Results by category:
Best Picture: 6/13 (missed 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2015, 2016, 2017)
Best Director: 10/13 (missed 2011, 2013, 2015)
Best Actor: 10/13 (missed 2007, 2009, 2017)
Best Actress: 11/13 (missed 2008, 2012)
Best Supporting Actor: 11/13 (missed 2007, 2013)
Best Supporting Actress: 11/13 (missed 2006, 2008)
Best Animated Feature: 10/13 (missed 2007, 2013, 2015)
Best Original Screenplay: 8/13 (missed 2005, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015)
Best Adapted Screenplay: 10/13 (missed 2008, 2010, 2015)


I am actually relatively into this year's Oscars, mostly because I am personally particularly pleased with this year's nominees since they largely reflect much of my own taste. Most of the major nominees are movies I would have seen and likely enjoyed regardless of their status at the Oscars, and it's somewhat more convenient for me that I have already seen most of the major nominees, which all rank among my favourite films of the year at this point: Dunkirk; Get Out; Lady Bird; The PostThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

My list of films yet to see has not really been affected by the nominations, with the exception of slightly more urgency to see Mudbound, which I can watch any time on Netflix. There are only two I really want to see before the Awards themselves air on March 4, but I think I'm actually going to try to see most of these films before the Oscars this year. The three big nominees I still want to see are Phantom Thread, The Shape of Water, and Darkest Hour (in that order), and then I also want to see (again, in this order) Molly's Game, The Big Sick, Logan, MudboundThe Disaster Artist, and I, Tonya.


Life of Turner is licensed under a Creative Commons Canada License. Subscribe to posts [Atom] [RSS].